The other day I was doing some updates to my LinkedIn profile and had a bit of a revelation, I’ve been doing some form of digital marketing for over 10 years now! To give you some perspective on why that was so revelatory for me, let me drop some stats on you. In 2005, when I started doing digital marketing:
- Twitter didn’t exist
- YouTube didn’t exist
- The iPhone didn’t exist
- Snapchat didn’t exist
- Instagram didn’t exist
- Gmail was in closed beta mode
- Facebook existed, but only had 5 million users (Zuck would’ve sold for $75M!)
- MySpace sold for $580 million dollars
I could go on, but you get the point… I’m old. No! Wait! That’s not the point. The point is, eleven years is not that long in the grand scheme of things, but when it comes to “digital” it’s an eternity.
During my time in digital marketing, I’ve seen lot’s of things come and go. Some have been game-changers and some fads. Hot topics today include account based marketing (or as the cool kids say, ABM), predictive scoring and advocacy marketing. Time will tell if those are fads or something that changes how we go about our lives. Another topic I hear a lot about these days is the “marketing technology stack.”
Every year, chiefmartec.com (a fantastic resource you should be checking out) hosts an annual conference called MarTech. One of the fun things they do is give out awards they call The Stackie Awards where organizations submit creative examples of highlighting all the various marketing technology platforms that are used within their organization. The submissions are very interesting to look at and the creativity in displaying the products is quite impressive.
As I flip through all of the submissions, one question that pops up for me is, “Do these companies truly have a “martech stack” or just a stack of marketing tech?”
What’s the difference between a martech stack and just a stack of marketing technology?
There are five key areas we have our clients focus on when they’re thinking about marketing technology purchases:
1. Integration is the key differentiator between having a true “martech stack” vs. a “stack” of disparate tools. It’s important to keep in mind what this really means. Gone are the days of buying on-prem solutions that could only be accessed by two guys turning keys at the exact same time. In this day and age, most platforms are “open” and have API access to expand integration possibilities.
Organizations need to think through their core technology platforms and ensure they are fully integrated. Ideally, organizations would have integrations between their CRM, Marketing Automation, CMS/website optimization, and DMP platforms, if they are doing a lot of digital ad buys. Creating a plan to ensure data is flowing between these key marketing platforms is vital.Related to this is ensuring that you have a plan in place to make use of the data. Simply integrating systems does nothing if you aren’t using the data to inform decisions, measure success and enhance the experience across all your marketing efforts.
Once you have your core platforms integrated and are executing on a plan to use the data to improve your efforts, you can begin to determine which ancillary platforms should be integrated. For example, some organizations might greatly benefit from having social data feed into CRM to measure multi-touch attribution. For others, that might not be important at all. There is a cost/benefit associated with getting all your systems integrated. It might make sense to not integrate some of the tools in your toolbox. Keeping in mind how you will use the data, drive efficiency, and measure effectiveness, will help guide you in determining if it makes sense to incorporate secondary tools into your core martech stack.
2. When looking at new tools to add to the stack, focus on Platform Openness. As I mentioned above, pretty much all platforms these days will tout openness, but you need to focus on what that really means. Does the new tool have pre-built connectors to the products you’re already using? What sort of data do the pre-built connectors allow you access to? How is the data transferred? How much flexibility is there in controlling what data goes where using the connection points? If there aren’t pre-built connectors, how easy it is to build something that will work for you?
Not all connections are built the same. Make sure to ask a lot of questions of the provider and don’t just take their word for it. Ask them to validate then openness through a demo or customer reference. Ensuring that your specific business needs can be met can be the difference between boosting your martech stack and just creating another silo that causes frustration and unnecessary expenses.
3. Ensure complementary Data Structures. Just as not all pre-built connectors are equal, all data structures are not the same (wouldn’t it be great if they were!). When integrating disparate systems you will have to deal with the way data is organized. Can you connect data between different objects, and if so, how? Do you need to flatten data before it can be tied to other data? How do the systems use ID’s to relate corresponding data to each other? Do you need an ID graph to match up different data structures? Determining how your tools organize and lay out data will be key in determining what can fit into your martech stack.
4. Demand easy Data Access. This is different than having an open platform. Data Access has to do with the ability to get to the raw data and then augment that data if you need to. For example, you could have a very robust integration between CRM and your marketing automation tool, but are you able to see raw data in the reporting areas of either tool? Or, do you have the ability to push in ancillary data to enrich your marketing efforts or are you locked into what exists in your CRM and MAP? Having access to the data will help ensure your martech stack scales to meet your needs, today and for the future.
5. Scale for tomorrow, not today. I’ve seen this far too many times. The bright shiny tool that looks so cool promises you the moon. You start probing deeper and you begin to realize that what they have so far gets you about 75% of the way to where you need to be. Of course, there are promises that the other 25% is “on the roadmap” only to realize later on that the roadmap looks more like driving from New York City to Los Angeles than driving from your house to the nearest grocery store.
Whenever considering adding a new tool to your stack ask yourself 3 questions:
1) Is 75% of the functionality I want still worth the price even if the other 25% doesn’t come to fruition?
2) I know what my organization needs now. What will our needs from this tool be in 3 years?
3) Should I be looking at a more robust tool that meets the needs I have today and has additional usefulness I haven’t even considered?
It might make sense to spend a little bit more now to move up to a more robust tool than to use a cheaper/less functional competitor now that you just have to rip out in a year or two. Plan for where your needs will be for 3 – 5 years down the road. Don’t be distracted by the bright and shiny new tool if it’s not going to scale to where your organization will be in few years.
Of course there are many other considerations for investing in and building a robust martech stack that works well together and ultimately meets your business requirements. These five are core to the list. Hopefully, as you’re thinking about building a future proof martech stack, a few of these points will have sparked some creative thinking or custom considerations of your own.
If you read through my list of items and thought to yourself, “We’ve got that covered.” or “We thought about that already.” then you are well on way to martech stack. If you are still unsure where you sit on scale of stack of marketing technology to a martech stack, we would love to have a conversation with you. It’s our business to help organizations like yours think through technology investments that will drive your business into the future.